Monday, October 29, 2012

What Was I Saying?

So, there I was, naked and dripping in the shower, a towel ten feet away in friend Lynne’s long bathroom. And yes, there was a towel hook next to the shower.

John is forever reminding me. “Reminding” is our code word for nagging. If he got to proof these prior to my posting them he’d defend himself by saying he has to remind me or crazy things happen—and he’s right. Without his reminding I would plan a dinner party for the night I’m supposed to be doing colonoscopy prep. Or I’d tell three different couples they could spend the holidays when I have only two spare bedrooms.

And this is me on a good day. It was much worse when I had chemo-brain.

John: We’re going to that potluck Saturday, remember?
Me: Oh. Right.
John: You said you’d bring your cheese potatoes.
Me: Oh. Right.
John: Do you have the ingredients?
Me. Oh. No.

He would work out a plan for us to get the ingredients and help me schedule the time to begin cooking. He’d patiently go through his mental checklist as often as it took to get me dressed and out the door, potatoes in hand. (Note: My cheese potatoes are spectacular. And I do share recipes.)

Our Middle Child worked a college summer job with her father’s company and they rode to work together. One day she came home saying, “Mom! Why does Daddy keep reminding me of things over and over? Why does he treat me like I’m four years old?”

I pondered a moment. “Well, he’s lived with me for a very long time.”

Just then John walked in saying, “Honey, you have a dentist appointment tomorrow so we’ll have to drive separately.”

Middle Child said, “I know I have a dentist appointment tomorrow! I made the appointment! Why do you remind me of things over and over?”

John pondered a moment. “I’ve lived with your mother for a very long time.”

Back to me, naked and dripping in Lynne’s shower. (I know, you didn’t want that image in your head the first time, much less again, but you probably needed a reminder.) I stepped out onto the shower rug and shuffle-slid across the cold tile. And the next morning I actually remembered to hang the towel on the hook. Sometimes I amaze myself.

How about you? The memory of an elephant, or of a … Wait. Is there an opposite of an elephant’s memory? If so, I forget.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Once(?) Upon a Mattress

I’m not sure where my parents obtained mattresses for beds for eight children. Since I can only remember them buying one new bike when I was a kid (the other two being purchased used, with our mythical allowances confiscated for those purchases), I’m thinking the mattresses were never new, just new to us. That when a great-aunt went to her satin-lined final rest, her old mattress was ceremoniously dumped on a wobbly bed frame at our house. The mattress my sister and I shared had a habit of slipping its frame and dumping us on the floor. Sometimes instead of calling for help, we just slept where we landed on the hardwood. You had to be tough to survive in my home.

The National Sleep Foundation did a study of how recently people had replaced their mattresses, but I find the study to be woefully inadequate. The longest category was “more than 5 years,” with 37% selecting that grouping. I want to know how many people—other than my parents—kept previously-used mattresses until all their children grew up, then kept them some more until they downsized when they (I assume) gave the mattresses to some other needy family. Then bought a furnished place in Florida and still have those mattresses on the guest room beds twenty years later.

My parents and people like them are not the reason for the proliferation of mattress stores in the U.S.

Have you noticed that? Every strip mall, appliance store and big department store sells mattresses now. It’s like back in the 80s when every strip mall started out with a dry cleaner, a nail salon and a tanning shop. Then it was banks springing up on every corner and in every grocery store, with pharmacies battling for the same spots.

So what’s the next shop to over-saturate the market? Frozen yogurt? Specialty pet stores? My personal kryptonite would be a combination kitchen shop and bookstore: The Cook and Book. Crockery and Bookery. Valerie’s Bliss.

What new shop would you like to see in your area? Dream big, people!

Monday, October 1, 2012

What Are You Going to Be When You Grow Up?

Just call me Mom

We went to a party the other night where we were asked to wear nametags because a few newcomers would be joining us. That didn’t actually happen—apparently they had something more fun to do. Or maybe it was some other reason.

There was a little addendum to the nametag thing. We had to write our name, and what we wanted to be when we grew up, as dreamed in third grade.

Many of the attendees were, how shall I say it? past middle age. Back when I was a third-grader, little girls were not expected to have a career. Oh, if we wanted to do something before we settled down to our real destiny of cooking, cleaning, and laundry, all the while making and raising babies, maybe we could dabble in nursing or teaching for a few years. Those were pretty much the open careers for females. By the time we got to high school we were actually encouraged to think beyond home and babies, but back in third grade? No.

All that to explain the responses. The men wrote things like explorer, scuba diver (remember the old TV series Sea Hunt?), cowboy, ball player, farmer, vet, etc. One woman wrote horse trainer and another listed nurse, but many of the women had a problem coming up with anything. One woman wrote “I don’t remember that far back,” another wrote “horse” (do you remember those girls who galloped around the playground and whinnied?), and one wrote, “a boy.” Yes, she wanted to be a boy when she grew up. Well, no wonder! Boys were going to be explorers and scuba divers and ball players and cowboys.

What about me? In grade school I attended a small Catholic school. I remember in second grade all the other girls said they wanted to be nuns. And I’m sure there was no pressure on anyone to choose that path, right? But even at that age I knew I wanted a family someday, and nuns were not allowed to have children. So at the party the other night, my nametag said “Valerie—Mom.”

I achieved my dream.

What about you? What did you dream of being? And no cheating, like my husband. He ignored the “in third grade” instruction and wrote “party animal” on his nametag. I promptly shredded it and made him try again.

And no, he never did learn to scuba dive.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gotta Love Him

I was talking to a daughter and mentioned a mother of teens who had evidently streaked her hair with Kool-Aid (food dye? Crayola markers?) in a shade of red not found in real hair.

“Was she single?” my daughter wanted to know.

Hmm. What would be the purpose? To attract a man who wanted a younger woman? If he wanted a younger woman and you fooled him into thinking you were younger, what would happen when you got even older? Seems self-defeating. I, for one, wouldn’t want a man who didn’t want the real me. I seem to get realer by the minute.

My daughter thanked me for not being one of those women who tries too hard to look younger. And yes, she meant it in the nicest way possible, so shut up. She mentioned middle-aged women lusting after significantly-younger males, women old enough to be the boys’ mothers wearing T-shirts proclaiming Team Jacob or Team Whatsisname from the Twilight movies. Nope, never occurred to me. I watched about five minutes of the first movie and then found a book to read.

Some years ago a couple I knew was lying on a beach. The turd of a husband motioned to a sweet young babe and said, “Why don’t you look like that?” The wife said, “Because I could be her mother. And you could be her father.” Unbelievably, he’s still married—and alive.

I remember the day my husband and a group of men were outside in a tourist town, waiting on the wives to finish shopping. A woman young enough to be their daughter walked by and when she was out of earshot several of the men commented on her looks. My husband’s comment? “Wow. Her mother must be beautiful.”

You gotta love a man like that.

Photo: Doris Ulmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, August 27, 2012


I have a hate-hate relationship with cameras. I hate the pictures they take of me, and I hate taking pictures. And I hate it when someone says, “Oh, that’s a good picture of you!”

Seriously? I look like that?

I think I peaked, photogenic-wise, in my kindergarten year. Oh, my wedding photos aren’t hideous, but really, who can resist baby teeth smiles and curly blonde hair?

Because of my dislike of photos of myself there are precious few of them in existence. Fewer photos to hate, of course, but also fewer chances of that rare good one to appear. Someone got a decent shot of me looking up adoringly at my husband, back when I thought he could do no wrong, even when he acted more like a boss than a husband. He’s a recovered bossy husband now, taking it one day at a time, but sometimes he says, “Remember when you had me on that pedestal? I miss those days.” Cling to those memories, honey. Those days are O-V-E-R.

I’m not a fan of taking pictures, as I said. When I was a child my dad manned the old box camera, taking pictures of distant, squinting children in a wiggly row. When I got married I naturally assumed my husband would follow suit. And he did, if you can call shots of little girls in backwards dresses with uncombed hair photography. On major holidays I’d come down the stairs with a hairbrush in my hand hunting snarly-haired little girls, and John would greet me with, “I took their pictures. We’re out of film.”

So I took charge of the camera.

My kids accuse me of forgetting the camera for every important event of their neglected, sad little childhoods. It’s easy for them—those smartphones are never farther than a pocket or purse away. In the old days we had to remember to bring a whole ‘nother piece of equipment. And be sure we had film. And flashcubes. And get the film developed. And we had to walk uphill both ways to the photo lab…

I’ll stop. You get the picture.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

No Green Thumb

I love to cook. If you know me at all, you know that. I love the flavor of fresh herbs but hate to buy a wad of cilantro or parsley, use one-fourth of it, and then after a few weeks toss the remainder in the garbage. And I don’t eat tomatoes often, but I do love a BLT made with a good, homegrown tomato. So when we moved to a house with full sun in the teeny-tiny back yard I decided to grow container gardens of tomatoes and herbs. Fast-forward to stunted, little, wormy tomatoes and a whole flock of something nasty eating all the basil. My reaction when I found all those bugs hunkered down and chewing? I yanked the basil out by the roots and did a stomp dance on the few bugs that didn’t fly away. Crushed basil with bug guts, anyone?

I’m not a fan of God’s littlest creepy-crawlers. My brothers were well aware of this fear and routinely tossed garter snakes in my direction. I responded by running, screaming and crying to Mom, which was their goal. Torture was having to pick potato bugs from the potato plants in Mom’s big garden. I trembled and gagged and cried, and still had to pick them. Yes, an abused childhood for sure.

Anyhoo, after the basil bugs (picture me shuddering), I gave up completely on tomatoes and brought my herb gardening venture inside. I had some success for a couple of years, but this past winter nothing would grow in my bright, sun-filled morning room. So—a return to the outdoors.

The basil and sage I planted from seed are finally sprouting, but the rosemary sent up one shoot which quickly shriveled in the cruel South Carolina heat. The cilantro, parsley and others are no-shows. I gave up and bought full, beautiful pots of oregano, marjoram and thyme from the farmer’s market—and after two days on the patio they were laid out like the death scene in Romeo and Juliet.

Recently, MSNBC aired a story about a man in India who had a 5-inch worm swimming around in his eyeball. (Want to see it? Seriously, you do? Here’s the link. Don’t eat first.)

The man told doctors he must have gotten the worm while gardening.

I’m thinking dried herbs are good enough.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Joy of Junk

My joy in garage sales has dimmed in direct proportion to the number of episodes of “Hoarders” I’ve seen. Houses buried under mounds of unnecessary crap, families torn apart by the sheer amount of stuff; I can’t help but double-think every purchase. I was never one to plan my weekends around hitting major garage sales, but if I saw one in the area and had the time I’d stop in. When my kids were little I bought toys, games and Barbie stuff at garage sales. Now I think twice; do I really need it?

I love antique shops, though, and still plan an occasional Saturday trip to the larger ones. Oh, not those dust-free, polished shops arranged like great-grandma’s dining room and parlor, with matching china place settings and silverware in its original wooden case. I like the shops with nice furniture here and there amidst mismatched dishes, the spice jars my mother used with the same rusty screw tops, and lots and lots of books. Hours can pass while I wander through one of those acres-huge shops. I seldom buy anything—my house is full of furniture, my bookshelves are crammed full, and I don’t need a blessed thing—but the fun is in the looking, not the buying. And I might just find the footed dessert cup to fill out my mother-in-law’s incomplete set.

Once in a while I’ll stop at a flea market, marveling at the booths of worn-out shoes and half-used Avon lotions next to a double booth of cheap cookware and utensils. Again, seldom a purchase, but that wasn’t the point.

Sometimes I worry about my penchant for poking through other people’s old junk. Then I remember a girl I worked with telling me that on the way to church for her wedding her parents stopped at a garage sale, saying, “We won’t be a minute!”

Obviously I don’t have a problem.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Love Lucy Moments

Okay, now that I survived, I’ll confess.

A couple of weeks ago I defrosted some shrimp to sauté. Before I cooked them I dipped one in cocktail sauce and ate it. Just ate the shrimp, picked up another to dip in more cocktail sauce, and then realized what I’d done.

I had forgotten I was dealing with raw shrimp, not reheating pre-cooked frozen shrimp.

Raw shrimp. In my mouth. Now in my stomach.

I told myself people eat raw fish all the time. They sell sushi in grocery stores for heaven’s sake! I told myself I’d eaten it without gagging so there was no sense in feeling queasy now. I told myself if I didn’t come down with food poisoning I’d take my secret to my grave; my husband and kids do not need more proof that I’m losing it.

I waited to see if my innards rebelled at such callous treatment. Fought the urge to confess the latest in my I Love Lucy moments. Resisted looking up all the dire things raw shrimp could do to my delicate digestive system.

And I lived.

Does that make me want to eat sushi? No. No it does not. I don’t even like to eat poached fish, or fish baked without some sort of coating. In most cases, I demand some texture to my ventures in fish food.

Will I be more careful in the future? Honestly, I might forget and do it again someday. And if I do, one way or another, I’ll carry that occurrence to my grave.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sticking the Dismount

I like to think I’m aging gracefully; not fighting the aging process with nips, tucks, or other artificial means; letting life etch my face and sculpt my body; and accepting that I’m not a kid.

And then I try to leap over a half-wall and fall on my ass.

Last night after a writer’s meeting I went out to dinner with friends. There were empty chairs at the near end of the table, but a woman who had just sold her novel (Susan Boyer!) was sitting at the far end in a corner and I wanted all the details so I could live vicariously through someone who had achieved what I’ve been trying to do for years. Which meant squeezing between the row of people already seated at the table and the half wall at their backs. As I made it to my chair, I realized I was not going to get through dinner (after a two-plus hour meeting) without, ahem, visiting the facilities.

Run the gauntlet again? No, I would simply go over the half-wall to the walkway that led to the restrooms.

The wall was about butt-high, so I sat on it and threw my legs over, expecting my feet to meet floor on the other side. But the other side was a ramp and suddenly I was airborne. Briefly.

You know that moment when life slows down and you have time to think, Oh, man, this is going to be bad? Yeah, that.

When I finally hit bottom my feet didn’t stick the landing. I kept on going and ended up on my butt, my side smacking against the opposite half-wall. Loudly. For a few seconds I just sat there wondering if I’d injured anything important. Besides my pride. My friends gasped, “Are you okay?” I reassured them that I was fine, dragged myself up off the floor and continued on to the bathroom, thanking God I hadn’t peed myself in the melee.

I've discovered there are some differences between Yankees and Southerners, at least between the Yankees and Southerners I know. My best friends (yes, Dee Ann and Marilyn, I mean you) back in Michigan would laugh until they cried, pretend they didn’t know me, and mock me until we all got so old we forgot it happened. They would trot out the story every time we got together, exaggerate it until it was unrecognizable, and wring every inch of fun out of it.

But I live in South Carolina now, and Southern people are exceedingly polite in the face of a person's public mortification. When I got back to the table no one even mentioned it. I’m not sure which is worse, being publicly teased, or thinking the others are meeting in the parking lot afterward asking, “Was she drunk or what?”

Aging gracefully? Maybe not.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bumper Stickers

Saw one of those back car window “family” stickers the other day. You know, those sweet drawings of the dad, the mom, the kids, the dog, the cat?

Not exactly.

Oh, this one had the requisite cute drawings of a dad, mom, little girl, little boy and a dog. But it said “The Ass Family: Smart, Wise, Kiss, Jack and Stinky.”

Some people shouldn’t be allowed to pick their own car art.  

For years now, I have wanted one of those personalized license plates you put on the front of your car. (I’m so old I remember when you had to have plates both front and back. Sigh.) My favorite so far is “No matter how far you ‘push the envelope’ it’ll still be stationary.”

You think maybe I should keep looking?

Maybe so. And Ass Family, before you decorate your vehicle with signs that ridicule your entire family, maybe you should think twice, too. Your Kiss-Ass daughter will thank you.